In today’s society, sex has become prevalent in our daily lives. At the grocery store, you can find men and women’s magazines with slim, shapely, chic models depicted on the cover with headlines for articles about how to last longer in bed, how to improve your sex life, and a multitude of ways how to please that special man or woman in bed. On billboards and tv, there are ads for breast augmentation, plastic surgery, penis enlargement pills, and sex enhancement pills. Through our phones, we can connect with thousands of people instantly, dating or hooking up through social apps such as Tindr with the quick swipe of a finger. Through electronic media, we are exposed to sex scenes from watching a movie or tv show or online through a porn site. Sex is everywhere and we can’t get enough of it; it is the inescapable seductive force which pervades our life.
Although it is such an important facet in our lives, sex is still highly controversial and extremely complicated. When we were young, we were taught about the dangers of doing it and how to do it safe and responsibly. As we grew older and became more educated and experienced, we talk about the different ways we can do it, how we can do it better, understand who we like to do it with and why we chose the people that we did to do it with. Ultimately, we ask: what makes us like sex so much and why do we even have sex in the first place?
The answer to why we have sex may be deceptively simple for many. Either: we have sex for procreation, in order to make babies to ensure survival of our species; or, we have sex because it feels damn good.
If sex is truly about making babies, then why is there contraception? There are plenty of people that are engaged in sexual activities where a baby is the last thing they want. Sexual acts such as masturbation, oral and anal sex do not produce offspring. Also, what does being sexually attracted to someone have to do with procreation? We can easily make a baby with someone we’re not attracted to just as easily with someone we are attracted to (however unpleasurable that may be). With today’s advancements in health science technologies, people can get pregnant and give birth without physically having sex. Furthermore, what do our sexual predilections, kinks, hidden desires, and fantasies have to do with reproduction? In reality, these observations and questions contradict the claim that sex is simply for procreation.
So, is sex then all about pleasure? If sex is solely about pleasure, sensuality, and the climax of an orgasm, then why can’t we just masturbate? Also, why do we need to feel attraction for someone in order to have pleasurable sex together? How can we be touched in our genital erogenous zones at times and feel the complete opposite of pleasure?
In a study conducted by Dr. Cindy Meston and Dr. David Buss, 237 different reasons for why men and women have sex were recorded. In a second study, they surveyed 1,549 people asking them to rank the reasons that mostly attributed to their sexual experiences.
IMAGE SOURCE: MESTON & BUSS (2007)
Their research and survey revealed that pleasure was a major factor for having sex, but not the sole reason. Pleasing a partner, having fun, expressing love, being in love, showing affection, and sexual attraction were also reasons why people had sex. It is not a surprise that men and women, women and men in this survey appear to have ranked their top reasons for having sex differently from each other. The women ranked reasons that dealt with love and affection higher than men, whereas the men focused on feelings of pleasure and excitement as their main reasons. Furthermore, when comparing reasons for having sex that were neither common nor least common, there were marked differences among the men and women. The men were more likely to report having sex because of physical attraction, for advancement of social status, and due to the availability of sex whereas women reported having sex for reasons such as exploring their sexual identity and autonomy, and reinforcing an emotional connection. Thus, this perpetuates the stereotype that men are usually more body-centered, focused on pleasures of the flesh, compared to women being more person-centered, which is focusing on the psychological and emotional connection with their partner.
In an online review, Sexuality & Culture, reveals the 20 most common reasons for having sex:
A survey of 1,500 undergraduate college students, conducted by psychologists at University of Texas at Austin, revealed four primary motivations when it came to why they had sex:
1) Physical – for pleasure, stress relief, exercise, due to attraction and curiosity,
2) Goal-oriented – to have a baby, to improve social status (such as becoming more popular), to seek revenge,
3) Emotions – for love, to improve commitment, showing appreciation and gratitude,
4) Insecurity – to boost self-esteem, to prevent a partner from having sex with others, an obligation or sense of duty toward a partner.
The truth is, the reason we have sex is much more complicated than just for reproduction, pleasure, and love.
A biological perspective to why we have sex may be based on Darwin’s theory of evolution. According to his theory, sexual reproduction helps the best genes be passed on while asexual reproduction (self-reproduction from the cloning of one’s own genes) may produce undesirable genes that may not be conducive to the long-term survival of the race. Under this viewpoint, men are wired to desire sex so that they can spread their seed to as many women as possible for propagation of the human species. Classically, this perspective views sex for women to be about reproduction of the best genes; therefore, women are more selective of their mate in order to reproduce and pass on the best genes to their offspring.
Randall Collin’s, a great American sociologist on the subject of sex, views human sexuality as a social construct. He argues that human beings are fundamentally a social species. For humans to survive and thrive, they need to be connected and learn to interact with each other; and by doing so, they pass on a lifetime of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. According to Collins, our world is constructed as an ongoing series of complex “interaction rituals” in which our physical existence is given meaning. These interactive ceremonies help us ground our social and psychological world. Daily, we gather with a common group of self-aware individuals to participate in a common interest where strong emotions emerge which solidify our connection between each other. Activities such as playing sports, going out to the movies, and even having sex, can connect us with one another making us feel closer towards each other.
Mark Manson sees sex as a strategy to meet our psychological needs. He proposes that sex helps satisfy our fundamental psychological needs for security, self-esteem, autonomy, and connection. By using his approach, we begin to understand why there are so many reasons for having sex and why there are just as much similarities as there differences for why men and women have sex. When men speak about their sexual conquests to their buddies, it satisfies their need for improving self-esteem. When we make love, we are filling our need for a connection with someone on an emotional level. Men and women may be inclined to have sex for profit in order to meet financial obligations or a need for financial security. From adolescence into our adult lives, we learn and experience sex discerning what we like, how we like it, and who we like it with which gives us autonomy over our sexual identities.
Understanding the reasons for how sex motivates and influences us is fundamental to our development as human beings. By studying and talking about sex, we achieve progress in understanding sexual differences between men and women, sexual identities as a species, the existence of sexual fantasies, and the manifestation of sexual disorders.